It can strike at anytime, but most cases develop in the spring. Although I've never seen statistics, I suspect it affects more men than women and usually lasts a day or two.
But the affliction has been known to go on for weeks and in some low-grade cases, maybe even for years. Symptoms include insomnia, difficulty concentrating, communication lapses, bouts of euphoria and periods of procrastination with respect to family and vocational responsibilities. Although deemed a fever, there is usually no elevation of body temperature associated with the condition that can stretch relationships to their elastic limit.
Car fever, that obsessive crave for a new set of wheels, infiltrates everyday life with the pervasiveness and tenacity of a well-turned-out computer virus.
Early on, my father showed me many fine examples. In the late 1950s and '60s, he went on yearly buying rampages that put our family into a string of Buicks and Mercurys. Those Detroit beauties, along with the two trucks he used in his plate-glass business, defined the landscape of our home. Lee Sowerby's fleet was new, detailed and usually had the biggest engines available. His vehicular realm was a fertile breeding ground for car fever.
"Where's Dad?" twin brother Larry or I would want to know when he was late for dinner.
"He's down at Steeves Motors again." Mother was resigned to being a single parent for the next few days while Dad was at the Pontiac-Buick-Cadillac dealership hammering out a deal.
In my 9-year-old mind's eye, I could see him in a small room with two or three car salesmen, slamming fists on the table over a hundred bucks. Big-time stuff. Dad would, of course, stomp out and have to be coaxed back in. More slamming fists.
Finally, on the third night, he walked in with that familiar grin. Outside was a new 1958 Buick Special. We had seen it many times in preceding weeks from the back seat of our 14-month-old 1957 Buick, cruising the Steeves Motors lot with Dad while our unsuspecting mother was home.
Over the next 10 years he went through a parade of Mercury Montereys and Park Lanes, even a suicide-door Thunderbird when I was a senior in high school. By then both brother Larry and I had begun a continuous cycle of vehicle purchases that has left both of us with stables of cars and trucks that are, by some standards, out of control.
My father's haggling at the local car dealerships got us our first job, washing cars at the Lincoln Mercury shop. We would keep on top of the 75- to 100-unit lot for 25 cents a car, which we split. Not bad for a couple of 13-year-olds. Our after-school and weekend job was a good place to await delivery of a 1966 Mercury half-ton pickup that Dad had ordered. The silver-gray beauty had a 220-horsepower 352-cubic-inch V-8, a three-on-the-tree column shifter and the optional full-length body side moulding.
But there was a downside to car fever. When the "new wheels" hoopla died down, I was haunted by a lingering emptiness without the old car Dad had traded in. After all, they were perfectly maintained cars that Larry and I had fussed over during their life in the Sowerby driveway. I learned to drive in them. I had my first dates in them. There was always the chance of seeing the new owner driving around with scraped whitewalls. I hated the idea of seeing it being neglected. No more waxed valve covers.
I used to dream about what it would be like to keep all the cars one ever owned. The millstone of an ever-growing fleet would carry weight in the decision to purchase a new car. The added baggage of insurance, maintenance, licence and storage would have to be considered. I figured that after a few cars the concept would abate my fever for new wheels.
I began about 15 years ago and now have 10 cars and trucks. That's 40 tires to replace, 10 dipsticks to check, a fleet insurance policy and a storage facility for up to 10 cars where I can hide and nerd out to my heart's content. The change-up of driving a different one every few weeks keeps my car fever in check.
Brother Larry has not fared so well, however. With only five in his fleet and no "can't-sell-the-old-one" rule, he drives his wife, family and me batty at times. One day he dropped by in a Porsche 911. He waxed on about how he could fall in love with it and keep it forever. A week later he was back showing me an eight-year-old BMW. He ended up with a speedboat then bought a new Chevy Silverado to tow it around.
For me, when the fever hits like it did when I saw the engine in a new Mustang Cobra last month, I ride it out for a few days. Dream the dreams, toss and turn, bore the family until I get down to the compound and check out my fleet.
Then, all those tires and dipsticks are usually enough to bring down the fever.
Garry Sowerby, author of "Sowerby's Road: Adventures of a Driven Mind," is a four-time Guinness World Record holder for long-distance driving. His exploits, good, bad and just plain harrowing, are the subject of World Odyssey, produced in conjunction with Wheelbase Communications. Wheelbase is a worldwide provider of automotive news and features stories.